Alright Swatties, and all my other elitist friends from around the world, take a look at this 8th grade final exam from 1895 and tell me how you would have done. In fact, how would you do now even with a partial college education?
That’s what I thought 😀
OK, so it’s not really fair because we don’t learn the 3 R’s in the same rote-learning way that they did back then, and some of these questions do strike me as useless and arbitrary. For instance, “Give the epochs into which US History is divided”? You can divide US History up any way you please, I’m sure modern history teachers do it differently from those of 1895. Knowing how your teacher divides up history doesn’t give you any useful information for use in the real world. It’s also interesting that we no longer have to have in-depth knowledge of battles in history… they specifically said in US History AP that we wouldn’t have to know the details of how battles went, just what their results and effects were. I liked that, since I’m a Quaker, and having to have in-depth knowledge of military technology and strategy in order to pass 8th grade would annoy me, but I’m not actually certain whether such knowledge is important or not. Knowing about guerilla warfare, for instance, is useful for understanding the current situation in Iraq. Understanding “principles” of history rather than arcane details is more useful (as the AP testers tell us). You’re going to forget the arcane details anyway.
Well, heck, learning how language “ought” to be written isn’t necessarily useful, since language evolves, and language that is effective for communicating meaning is well-crafted language, no matter whether it agrees with the grammar book. There is, of course, a good argument for standardizing language so that, no matter who you try to speak English with, you can always communicate. But one reason why English is a great language is that, unlike the French, we don’t have an official body that decides what words are in our language. Our dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive, that is they report how we speak instead of telling us how we ought to speak. The language evolves on its own to fit our needs, and is often useful and efficient in a way that a language imposed from above could never be.